Freewebstore's Store of the Month for January will definitely help warm you up during the winter months! We caught up with Phil and Kay of Dartmoor Chilli farm, based in beautiful Devon.
1. Please tell us a little bit more about Dartmoor Chilli Farm and where it all started?
Dartmoor Chilli Farm is now officially 10 years old. We are an eco-friendly farm based on the Southern slopes of the magnificent Dartmoor National Park. We run completely from renewable energy including solar and wind. The farm is run by Phil and Kay Palmer. Kay was born in Ashburton, our nearest town and Phil has been in Devon for 45 years having moved down from Croydon when he was a toddler (so still technically he is still a blow – in!)
We grow over 100 varieties of chilli pepper from the humble Jalapeno right up to the dreaded Carolina Reaper (the current World Record Holder). We also grow lots of our ingredients such as soft fruits and have a dedicated kitchen which is situated right next to our main growing tunnels. We ONLY use our chillies in our products. This is probably the biggest difference between us and some of our bigger competitors. We make our sauces and preserves in small batches for maximum quality and flavour.
Before we started the chilli farm we used to sell medicinal herbs such as Meadowsweet, Echinacea, St Johns Wort etc… Chillies are a medicinal plant too so used to offer these to our customers at local events in Devon. At the time Phil was a buyer for a local computer company and Kay was getting her horticultural qualifications. We had seen a television programme with George Clarke about a couple starting their own chilli farm in Suffolk and thought “we could do that”. The rest is history. We started off with 10 varieties and 5 products. We now grow 100+ varieties and have about 70 products. This year we reduced our range down a little so we can concentrate on our most popular lines.
Ironically Phil grew chillies on his windowsill at university back in the 90’s whilst everyone else was growing “other herbs”. He has been a chilli head ever since.
2. What is your most popular product?
Dartmoor Goblin is our best seller by absolute miles. It recently overtook Beast of Dartmoor as our most popular sauce. So we’ve sold more units of Goblin in 2 years than we have Beast in 10! It won a Silver Award at the Taste of the West awards for 2017 and also a GOLD award at the Devon Food and Drink awards a few months back. We get lots of customers asking for our hottest sauce. However, they forget that chillies are about flavour as well as heat, so we get them to start from the middle and work up – rather than diving straight into the evil Destroyer sauce. 99% of the time, when people try the Goblin, they say “oooh that’s delicious!”
The Goblin is made with Naga Jolokia pc1 chillies and Roasted Garlic. It’s a medium heat, great all rounder which goes with pretty much anything. We use it all the time on cheese on toast! (about the level of Phil’s cooking)
3. What do you see as the most important marketing tool for your business?
We’ve tried banner advertising which was a total waste of time and money. We had one call and that was a wrong number looking for our competitors. We think the biggest asset to any business is repeat customers, a website which is up to date (and hopefully interesting to customers hence the Projects page and lots of other non-product pages on our site) and also a good presence on social media. We especially like Twitter. (Give them a follow on Facebook and Twitter!)
4. If you could have ANYONE to come and work for you, who would it be?
It would be the comedian and guitarist Richard Digance. He makes us laugh like hyenas. He could serenade the chillies (Singing to plants is supposed to be beneficial).
5. Do you have any advice for any new store owners?
For us, customer service is number one. We like good old fashioned service so that’s what we try and provide our customers. If there’s a problem, do your utmost to sort it out. Keep the website easy to navigate – one of the reasons we like freewebstore is that desktop and mobile sites look good and are easy for people to find what they are looking for. Concentrate on your main lines. Find out your most popular products.
Finally, see if you can get some independent reviews and include links to these on your site.
6. Is there a specific reason why you chose freewebstore as your eCommerce platform?
We used to use Zencart which was pretty good. However, we found it fiddly in some respects – like the ability to add different checkout systems. Paypal was easy but Stripe was a different story and we didn’t want to limit our website to just one payment system. Some people still don’t like Paypal – which is strange as we have never had an issue and we like their protection system for customers. We also didn’t like the way that when we looked to see who was online and where they were, quite a few were trying to guess the admin password which was a bit worrying.
We love Freewebstore. It is really easy to use, very safe for customers and the help from the support department are amazing.
7. Do you have any funny stories from when people have tried your chillies?
We’ve been around for 10 years now so we have quite a few. Our favourite story is from a lady in America who said she ate half a bar of our infamous Dartmoor Demon chocolate and then said she felt like she was having “another” baby. We also had a guy at Devon county show who was boasting to his mates about all the chillies he could eat raw.
When challenged by a “pal” he ate a raw Trinidad Scorpion pod from one of our fresh chilli packs, against our advice I might add. These chillies are insanely hot - about 700 times hotter than a Jalapeno. The results were as expected. He looked faint, then sat, then lay on the floor by our stall. I don’t think he’ll be doing that again.
8. Why is eCommerce important for your business?
One of the downsides to living in the national park is that the local planning department has stipulated that unlike our competitors, we are not allowed to have visitors to the nursery. Which is a pity as it would be nice to demonstrate to customers how we do things at the farm such as all the chillies we grow (as well as lots of other ingredients such as gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, apples) and also our dedicated kitchen for the products we make. As a result, we rely on the markets we attend, our lovely stockists dotted around the county and also web sales. eCommerce is extremely important from January to March, as we have no markets and stockist orders are at a minimum so at this time of year web sales are extremely important.
As well as an online presence Dartmoor Chilli Farm has a strong offline presence
9. And finally, do you have any celebrity customers?
The kind of celebrities we meet are in the cooking world when we attend shows and events. We once had the Hairy Bikers use some of our smoked chipotle chillies in a demonstration they were doing. Our favourite chef though is the wonderful Peter Gorton who often uses our chillies and we get lots of feedback from customers to say he has recommended our products... which makes us feel all warm and gooey.
We also had a web order from a David Beckham but unless he’s moved from LA to the Isle of Wight, we think it’s a different guy! (hahaha)
Phil and Kay use the Good-PC design template for Dartmoor Chilli Farm. Go check them out for some chilli-tastic gifts!